Unexploded bombs, nesting birds, military training for Afghanistan and complicated tides can make a visit to the sunny limestone cliffs of South Pembrokeshire seem a daunting prospect.
However don’t be put off as the climbing is world class and with some prior planning and the right information a huge number of crags and routes are available all year round.
The cliffs of South Pembrokeshire are arguably as good as it gets in terms of traditional sea-cliff climbing with a huge range of grades, relatively easy access and some brilliant tea-rooms to escape to after climbing!
But there are some issues – much of the climbing is on the Castlemartin Firing Range, one of the busiest live firing ranges in the UK with access to the Range West section severely limited. The range is divided into two sections – Range West and Range East. Range East is open every weekend and most evenings after 16.30, but will be closed during mid week days due to live-firing exercises.
Previously the Castlemartin Ranges were used mainly for tank training, but today are primarily used for specialised training for all personnel about to deploy to Afghanistan and a consequence of this is that there are some longer mid-week closures of Range East, including all of St Govan’s.
Access will still be available each weekend, on bank-holidays and on non-firing evenings after 16.30.
The dates and times for these closures in early summer in 2012 are mid-week days from 14 May 14 to 22 June. There will also be night firing on all Tuesdays and Thursdays during this period. The second closure dates are midweek days 25 June to 20 July with night firing every mid-week evening during this period. There will be access between 17.30 and 21.30 during these times to St Govan's head and Trevellen only. The section from St Govan's chapel to Stack Rocks will reamin closed.
Range West is a more serious business- live unexploded bombs and other ordnance are literally lying about on the ground and access to this part of the range is only available to climbers who have attended the annual safety briefing.
The Dates for this year’s briefings are Saturday 2 June, Saturday 23 June and 28 July. All of the briefings are at the Castlemartin Army Camp, post code SA72 6DY. All climbers need to be at the camp gates in time for the prompt start at 9am. More here.
Some of the cliffs are internationally important nesting grounds for some pretty rare and protected birds, including Choughs, Peregrine Falcons and a range of seas birds, including Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins and Kittiwakes. For this reason there are agreed seasonal climbing restrictions on some cliffs.
All of the agreed seasonal climbing restrictions are updated annually in the useful and free National Park publication Climbing Restrictions Leaflet which is available at the entrance points to Range East, at St Govan’s and the Olde World Cafe (Mrs Weston's) at Bosherston.
Updates and changes to the restrictions will also be posted at these sites –please ensure that you check these notice boards on each occasion.
Recent changes include removing the restrictions at Mowingword, lifting of the saesonal restriction at Mewsford South West Face, and Devil’s Barn. The restriction on the routes “Energy Funnel to Enter the Goat” has also been lifted for 2012.
New restrictions include "White Knight" at The Castle, "Eat, Drink & Beat Gary" to "Fax Wars" at Bosheserston Head and "Meatloaf to Breaking the Habit" at Trevellen. The boundaries of all restricted areas are marked on the ground by red pots on the cliff tops and the new restrcted areas by cliff top signs.
Following an infringement of the annual restriction at Stackpole Head climbers are reminded that all of Stackpole Head is a highly important sea-bird nesting colony and the restrictions are still in force here until the end of July.
All climbing restrictions are also on the BMC Regional Access Database which provides the most up to date information on all restrictions to climbers.
More information on the wildlife and conservation of these amazing and internationally protected habitats can be found on the excellent and informative free publication, The Pembrokeshire Green Climbing Guide, produced by local climber and BMC access volunteer Steve Quinton.
New for 2012 at Range West is that the previously restricted Hobby Horse Bay will now be available for climbing, the previous restriction to protect important archeology has been mainly lifted and only three routes are now restricted here – more information will be available at the briefings.
Finally the tides
The BMC can’t do anything about these, but you can check out the tide times for Pembrokeshire here.